`First day' hike starts the new year on energetic note; Trek takes route along Blackstone Canal.
UXBRIDGE - Clothed in heavy boots and puffy parkas, hikers celebrated the arrival of 2013 Tuesday by stomping through snow and learning about the intricacies of 19th Century transportation.
The "First Day" hike along the Blackstone Canal tow path at River Bend Farm Visitor Center gave 87 visitors, four staff members and one dog a chance to shake off cabin fever and start the new year with a bracing walk along a frozen waterway.
"It's great to get outside in the winter, and it's a great way to start the new year," said Bethany L. Walker of the Whitinsville section of Northbridge, who was part of a group of three families that have made it a practice to attend "First Day" hikes.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsored 11 outings Tuesday, from the Berkshires to Brighton. Hundreds more First Day hikes were scheduled across the country.
The goal is "to get out, basically," said Christopher D. Hookie, Massachusetts State Parks central valley district manager. "It's exercise. Get out and visit the park and enjoy nature. A lot of people have probably never been on a nature walk."
River Bend Farm last hosted a First Day hike in 2009. As adults and children, some of the youngsters strapped into backpack carriers, prepared to set out yesterday afternoon from River Bend Farm's visitor center for a two-mile hike, singer Bridget Darling of Worcester played guitar and serenaded them with the 1966 Nancy Sinatra classic hit, "These Boots are Made for Walking."
"Are you ready, boots?" she said, as hikers filed outside. "Get ready to hit the trail."
Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park Supervisor Val E. Stegemoen led the group across a bridge over the canal and then south to Stanley Woolen Mill. Along the way, children threw powdery snowballs onto the bumpy frozen surface of the canal and Mr. Stegemoen regaled the group with tales of a waterway that opened in 1828 and carried goods to the sea for about 20 years before railroads made the canal obsolete.
Mr. Stegemoen later said he hoped the visitors left the park with an appreciation for the resources of Massachusetts.
"The natural resources, cultural resources and historic resources," Mr. Stegemoen said. "They're available for recreation and education."
For some hikers, the appeal of First Day outings lay in getting outside with friends and relatives.
"I just like being outside in the snow and hiking, and the weather was beautiful," said Hal Dickert of the Whitinsville section of Northbridge. He accompanied his daughter, Bethany Walker, and her husband and children.
Lori M. Sawyer of Northbridge, who was part of the group with the Walkers, and Mr. Dickert had been on previous First Day hikes at Purgatory Chasm in Sutton. The tow path walk offered more history, but the real draw for her was the hike.
"I go more for getting outside and exercising," she said.
Keith A. Verra of Northbridge, also part of the group, said the same applied to the children who hiked with their parents.
"I think it's good to get the kids out walking in the snow," Mr. Verra said.
After the hike, visitors sipped hot cocoa in the visitors center and warmed up. Among the crowd were seven people from Murray Unitarian Universalist Church in Attleboro who had arrived too late to join the hike but set off on their own walk in the snow.
"My New Year's resolution was to be more active," said Jane G. Hutchinson of North Attleboro. "This is a great way to start the year."
CUTLINE: (1) Walkers set out for their "First Day" hike yesterday from the visitors center at River Bend Farm. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsored the event. (2) Hikers set out on their walk at River Bend Farm yesterday.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/CHRISTINE PETERSON